Do as I say – not

Recorded and knit together by WSM

My Mother had a saying when I was a teenager.

“It’s not do as I do, it is do as I say.” She used the phrase frequently whih only helped to reinforce the knowledge I was learning at boarding school, that not all adults were to be trusted. It was a common enough phrase for those times.

This weekend our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, must have pondered this thought, actually for a full two hours and twenty minutes before – reluctantly – agreeing that he and his chancellor Rishi Sunak would self-isolate after coming into contact with their new Health Minister Sajid Javid now infected with Corona virus. Using the track and trace app that has been causing havoc up and down the country Javid then pinged his contacts, Johnson and Sunak, who must have been irked, ‘darn Javid, not playing by our rules but the rules we set out for the rest of the population.’ But the stakes of ducking this moment were too high and so, Johnson put out a tweeted video, tie knotted, hair as usual, after Sunak – always keeping his political plate clean – had previously tweeted: “I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.” And what pilot is that anyone who was listening to Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning politics show – asked? The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick one of those smooth on the surface, soft as custard on the inside, conservative MPs, tried to explain: ‘it was an idea, looking into who, for the moment, would not need to self isolate’. Within an hour of the program ending several transport unions all issued  statements that the claims made by and for government on Sunday morning that such a scheme existed were “totally untrue”. The shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said: “The reality is, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been caught red-handed trying to get round the rules they expect everyone else to follow. They must now apologise for their contempt for the British public and for needlessly dragging hard-working transport workers into their farcical cover-up.” Well good luck with that idea.

It is back to barracks for them all. Boris has retired to the Prime Minister’s country estate, Chequers, where he can roam in reasonable isolation over the 1500 acres of grounds

Chequers from the air. Getty Images

Monday was ‘Freedom day’ and COVID restrictions were eased with bars, night clubs and restaurants opening with no need for face coverings and social distancing and yet – most of us, even those who don’t go to bars, night clubs and discos will continue to wear face coverings, as the cases of COVID infections in England rise exponentially. No other country has taken such a risk and much of the world is watching. The National Health Service has issued its own guidance, face coverings and social distancing will still be required in all medical facilities.

Right on cue, Dominic Cummings (remember him?) has given a lengthy interview with the BBC’s political Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, which is being broadcast, piecemeal, each evening. Like him or loathe him, Cummings is a strange duck whose beak is sharp and his quack persistent as he speaks his truth, which, the following morning, a Downing Street spokesperson naturally denied. 

With all this home-grown scandal and confusion, we but glance at the world around us. Afghanistan, Myanmar, Belarus, Africa, India and Cuba all left to fend for themselves as summer lassitude overtakes world governments with their own crisis of weather, pandemics and fear.

The flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the storms and fires in the Western States of the U.S. all tell us that the Earth is tipping on its axis. The moon’s monthly cycle happens every 18.6 years, when it wobbles into a slightly different orbit. The moon appears upset and due to have a heightened wobble with anxiety at the extent of our excesses and global warming. Sometimes the high tides are lower than normal and sometimes they are higher, something that those of us who live by the sea have seen over the years but maybe didn’t put down to the Moon, and her monthlies. The destruction and the mud seen in Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands is sobering. Houses and towns that have stood for centuries are gone. Close to 200 people are known to have died in Germany alone but there are still many, hundreds even who are missing.

Flooding in Luxembourg July 2021 by Tristan Schmurr

Quietly the British troops, along with the Americans, are leaving Afghanistan and the Afghan army to defend Kabul which may fall to the Taliban within months. The collapse, implosion, of the Afghan strategic forces has been faster than anyone anticipated and must leave the retreating troops with a sense of failure and even guilt at any number of poor decisions, even that of being in Afghanistan in the first place.

Now Britian has had its ‘grand opening’ and the Prime Minister and Chancellor have to stay at home, so hurriedly laws need to be changed – once more. But all is quiet in the village and everyone queuing for the post office counter is wearing a mask.

A woman is taking out her weekly bag of garbage. The bin men will come tomorrow. She is always dour, struggling with this small chore that one day will become too much for her. It is hot outside, hopefully her flat has a fan or a window open to the shade of the day. When she thinks nobody is watching she drops her garbage in someone else’s bin and is about to return home. But she is stopped by the scent from the lavender bed. She reaches out her hand, running it through the flower stalks before plucking a couple to hold, and bring to her nose. Inhaling the perfume her face breaks into a cautious smile before she hurries back home to her own loneliness.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

1 Percent

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

“In 1961, twenty-four young women came together in a classroom at The Royal Surrey Country Hospital in Guildford, Surrey. We were entering our three-month period of preliminary nurse training. With its completion, we could begin our official journey to become State Registered Nurses. But first, we had to pass through Sister Cartwright’s schoolroom, her capable hands, and caring heart. Only twenty students emerged from her classroom and by the end of our three years, we were a graduating class of sixteen.” So I wrote for ‘Learning to Heal’ published by Kent State University Press in 2018.

Of those sixteen nurses who graduated in 1964, eight left England searching for working opportunities in other countries.  We loved nursing and yet knew that it would be near impossible to afford a life much beyond the student style we already lived. My three cottage mates and I left for Australia, Africa, America, and Canada. 

In this last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen nurses in England, and all over the world, work harder and longer than ever before. They, along with medical consultants to cleaners, have been tireless in their dedicated care of their patients. They have given their best to bus drivers and to Boris, and so it seems something of a wet fish in the face to hear this year’s budget distributions to the National Health System – while understanding that education, business, and all endeavors need financial aid at this time. Many public sector workers had a pay freeze, and the NHS staff account for half of that budget.  People cost money. Last year this very government promised an over 2% pay increase. Nada. And yet, tucked away in the LBC, a little radio program, comes the news of the HMRC, short for the tax collector, garnering a total 13% pay rise. They may deserve it, but it brings back the wet fish feeling. 

Before Brexit and COVID, nurses were moving across Europe and other countries, as we had done before them. In accepting the Tillie Olsen Award for ‘Learning to Heal’ I spoke of that too: “Oft times we choose nursing as a pathway from one social environment to another, usually empowerment and/or of a social context.”  After Brexit many European nurses returned to their home countries, leaving England once again – the poorer. 

In this Government Budget, Rishi Sunak is not looking so Dishy with a 1% pay raise for the NHS nurses, with other public-sector workers’ pay is frozen. “A row has erupted,” says one headline, “Unions warn,” says another. And I think how when I graduated in 1964 I made the conscious decision not to join the Royal College of Nursing because in their mandate was a clause whereby nurses could strike. I couldn’t believe that action would ever be needed or used. But today it is not a stretch to see how it can be discussed. We understand that equipment and machinery are expensive. But we remember the incredible spending blotches of this government: the huge Nightingale hospitals, erected with fanfare and speed, stand empty – and are soon to be dismantled. Nobody had thought of the staff needed to run them. Meanwhile, old brick-and-mortar hospitals remain hugely overcrowded, and last spring some even came close to running out of oxygen. Then there are the containers of PPE ordered from Turkey last May at a cost of millions of pounds. The shipments were delayed and then found to be below standard and useless on arrival. All this while firms in England were converting factories into making the equipment needed. I could go on, but you get the picture.

You would have thought Boris Johnson, with his own hospitalization and desperate need for nursing care, would have learned something. But as profuse as his thanks were at the moment, he thought no more of the nurses than of a maid who has ironed his shirt, nicely. 

Boris has other things to think about. This week schools reopen across England. There will be protocols of swab testing and masks in place, but not yet the sensible vaccination of all teaching staff. While fact-checking this I found an on-line petition to bring this item forward for Parliament. And signed it.

Boris Johnson in School

As we look up from Little England, which looks smaller by the day, there is a place to be grateful for a moment, for our smallness brings the ability of the mass vaccination program being rolled out across the country. The fact that we have a higher ratio of deaths per capita than almost every other country in the world is put to one side for the moment and hopefully will be dealt with later.

But we do lookout, even knowing that what we are seeing is often curated for our viewing: not much from Belarus or Moscow but still horror from Myanmar where, according to Reuters, close-by residents were warned not to enter the cemetery on Friday. The police and military were digging up the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin in an effort to prove that the bullet that killed her could not have been theirs. They couldn’t prove it and so the protests continue to grow. A small change has happened that the military is mostly now using rubber bullets rather than live ammunition – mostly.

Meanwhile, The Pontiff, Pope Francis, traveled on a commercial plane on a pilgrimage to Iraq. He met with Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and other religious leaders and visited churches and communities bombed by ISIS in northern Iraq. 

Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani with His Holiness, Pope Francis

Many years ago, when Pope Francis was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires, California’s Bishop Bill Swing, (Also known to KWMR golfing listeners as a fine golfer and supporter of KWMR) was visiting that city. They talked of Bishop Swing’s dream of a United Religions Initiative and together gave the first interdenominational service at the Cathedral. Now, as Pope Francis, he carried that message of inclusiveness deep into the Muslim world at Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. 

Timing and Dosage and the Saga of the Sussexes. I think back to our beloved Sister Cartwright and wonder that there was not a similar helping hand to light a lamp and show the way forward on the new path and calling for the young family. I hope that wherever their journey takes them they find such a person, who, like a nurse, will hold their hand in the darkest of times.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad. 

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Arrival

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

As I write, the first of the vaccines for the COVID-19 virus are being administered in 70 hospitals throughout the United Kingdom. Margaret Keenan, who will be 91 next week, received the first of the 800,000 doses that have arrived. 40 million doses of the Pfizer/bioNtech vaccine are on order to be delivered to the United Kingdom in the coming weeks.

The vaccines were made by the husband and wife team of Professors Sahin and Özlem Türeci at their German firm BioNTech. Professor Türeci’s father had come to Germany as a refugee from Turkey and found work as a mechanic at the Ford factory. When Sahin was four years old the family followed and the immigrant refugee family settled in Germany.

Last week England came out of lockdown from the Coronavirus while this week much of California enters it. So the virus wings about through the world. The World Health Organization is scrambling to keep the regional information current. Each country and region looks for different ways to combat the virus and it is clear that countries led by women leaders have fared best thus far in their handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. One could argue that those are ‘small countries with manageable numbers’ or one could say ‘those are women who know how to think of more than one thing at a time.’ Other women, in government, or opposition, are also organizing their worlds, fighting back against right-wing oppressive governments. And mostly they do it in tandem or groups: Marta Lempart, a co-founder of Polish Women Strike has been battling the latest anti-abortion laws in her country laid out by the government and the Catholic Church.

Martha Lempart picture from the Financial Times

The team of three Belarusian ladies work together even as they are physically far apart. Patrisse Cullors a co-founder of Black Lives Matter says the obvious, “No movement has one leader. It never did and it never will.” Maybe this is something women understand clearer than men.

Patrisse Cullors

Due as much to science, and the infection numbers coming down as to the Christmas retail needs, London is buzzing again. Shoppers are out in such force in the West End and Knightsbridge that over the weekend four arrests were made outside of the Harrod’s department store, while the crowds of mostly young people, struggled to shop ’til they drop. And some sadly will. Even in our little corner of town, people are shopping, clustering at coffee shops and spending money. I am too, being careful and almost guilt-free in my efforts to support the local economy. But the empty shop windows in the high streets strip the phrase ‘shutting up shop’ of its humor as workers lose their jobs. What is the key to shops staying alive? Beyond getting savvy with the new online way of buying and selling it has to be related to those who own the real estate underneath the buildings. If the rents and taxes can be managed then the shop has a chance to make it through.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak know all this of course and must look to whose bread is to be buttered.

So again I ask, why are the UK and European fishing rights so important when all the seafaring European countries have been dipping their oars and nets into everyone’s waters for centuries, and who, for goodness sake owns all the boats and fleets? It really is a medieval moment, without the costumes. There is a news outlet ‘Unearthed’ that digs into this to the point of making you despair at anyone with a net and a trawler not being a pirate.

As Boris rushed from congratulating 81 year old Lyn Wheeler for getting her vaccine jab at Guy’s Hospital onto his next stop, Brussels, one had to wonder about the UK’s group of small and wealthy elite. Maybe understanding their concerns is the beginning of the answer to defending ‘Our sovereign rights’ as opposed to ‘workers rights’. It is hard to find anyone writing or talking about Off-Shore banking. Those little Islands close by, of Man, Jersey and Guernsey and further afield like Bermuda, that hold the banks that are happy to take your funds and ignore reports for UK taxes. Even as I pay my UK taxes to Her Majesty’s Government I then pay the tax ladies’ bill into their bank in Guernsey! The small and wealthy elite are rushing to come out of the European Union before those EU rules and regulations come snooping into the Islands.

An Obituary in the weekly local Camden Newspaper said of a lady who had died at 103, ‘She used to be a fine cook in her prime.’ It made me pause and wonder what and when is ‘prime’? Cooking is a part of who I am, it is a joy and often an adventure. Someone else wrote, ‘My Kitchen and I work in harmony’ and I know that, as one ingredient or dish of left-overs leads into an old favorite or a new creation to place on the table. Grandma Murch would cook her oatmeal cookies whenever someone came to visit at her home in 1 Vermont Avenue in Toronto. Those cookies, from the old Quaker oatmeal recipe, are the ones I made for our children and now at least one daughter makes them for hers.

Four generations of Quaker Oatmeal Cookies

The Christmas lights are on and the birds have gone to roost. Maybe it is time to pull out that oatmeal cookie recipe once more and put the kettle on as the light fades before tea-time and all is dark outside.

This has been A letter from A. Broad.
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org. Web support by murchstudio.com


Striker

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Scotland is quick off the mark as it takes Footballer Marcus Rashford’s goal of free school meals one step further, proposing giving all primary aged children breakfast and lunch throughout the entire school year. Yesterday the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a one-time thank you gift of £500 for every full-time Health and Care Worker in Scotland. Take that England! Today there is a big vote in Parliament about the tier restrictions, ‘where’ will be classified as ‘what’. Through this country-wide lockdown the number of COVID positive tests continues to rise and fall in waves across the country. But as we come out of the national lockdown and into tier two, the number of cases and deaths in London is down. There is even a suggestion that we might have crested the peak of a second wave.

The Weekend Financial Times newspaper editor, Alic Russell, lays two pink-paged obituary columns side by side.

Leading is the article on Jan Morris, ‘The Greatest Travel writer of her generation’ writes Russell. And more so. From James to Jan she wrote of her travels with eloquence, insight and a dry wit. During the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Clinton years she published a collection of essays, ‘Conundrum’. One a reflection on the physical beauty of an army officer, as they rode side by side in an army tank, transporting the tank, and the officer, back to that of a Greek chariot.

In ‘Thinking Again’ Morris quotes Arthur Clough writing in 1861, “Thou shalt not kill: but need’s not strive officiously to keep alive.” She is musing on an old clock that hangs in her kitchen in Wales, supplanted in use, but not in beauty, and I smile, for behind me is a similar clock, probably an old golf prize of my father’s. It has always been tricky, needing frequent winding, but after a day or two it slowly winds down to a stop. When it first came into my care I took it to a clock-maker who worked with it for a week, before handing it back, with a bill, and a wry smile. “Not much I can do here unless you want to…” His voice trailed off and I understood that this was a moment that “one need’s not strive officiously to keep alive.”

Beside the reflective Jan Morris is the smiling brash Diego Maradona who many consider the greatest footballer of his generation. His epic scoring second goal in the World Cup quarter-finals against England in 1986 was a moment of triumph, a ‘take that’ kick up the English backside that left two of the English players hard-put not to applaud.

I never really got football, it is my failing and I apologize. When we were first in Buenos Aires I was often alone long into the evenings in the apartment on Calle Estados Unidos. At least once a week, echoing out of the hallways and up the shafts between the apartments, would come what I took to be the sounds of after a drink and pre-dinner sexual activity. It took a while before learning that, no, it was TV football-watching and probably La Boca Juniors were playing.

It was with grim pressed lips that the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, reportedly by an Israeli ambush team, was broken last week.

A rare picture of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

Countries watched and remained silent – for the most part – for there is movement on the chess board. While President – Elect Joe Biden says he intends to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, Jared Kushner has taken up the baton from Michael Pompeo and is very busy flying here and there through the Middle East.

The ambush of Fakhrizadeh was planned like an age-old assignation. An assault twelve member team with another fifty personnel in back-up. The area’s electricity was cut half-an-hour before the assassination took place at a road round-about in Absard. The helicopter could not land close-by and so time was lost for those killed and injured as they were all flown back to Tehran.

Somehow it is these details, which lead me back in memory to the gangster killings in New York, and the history of the assassination of the Iranian General Afshartous in 1953. I should be paying more attention to the travel Itinerary of young Jared Kushner. This week he is meeting Saudi Crown Prince MBS in Neom before ‘having a word or two’ with the Emir of Qatar. These could be some interesting tea parties as he tries to gather the Middle Eastern countries into alignment with Israel. I’m not sure he really knows what he is doing – or does he? He is young and must have his own aspirations.

Winter is here. The Thanksgiving Holiday has rolled from the last weekend in November into the first week of December. The family traditions that we built over the years adapt with age. We would prune the wisteria over the barn this weekend and then hang the funky lights over the front windows on the farm. Often we were told that as friends drove around the lagoon, seeing those small unfussy lights, made them know they were coming home. Now here in London we will choose a wreath for the front door and pull out the old Fortnum’s hamper of lights to decorate the little cottage.

Welcome to Number 39 Photo by WSM

Last week saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak lighting an oil lamp on the doorstep of Number 11 Downing Street, for the Hindu festival of Diwali, now the big Christmas tree is up outside of number 10.

Whatever our cultures and religions, coming together in gratitude will bring joy and for that we can all be grateful.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch. First aired on Swimming Upstream – KWMR.org. Web support by murchstudio.com